Google’s New SearchMash Test Site

Google’s gained a new unbranded site called
SearchMash where it plans to test user
interface ideas without Google’s brand somehow skewing the tests. Below, more
about the site and comments from Google about it.

Currently, SearchMash allows you to perform a search and get web and image
results presented side-by-side. It’s similar to how A9 has long allowed
side-by-side results, ironically a feature that A9 has made much harder to
implement after a
recent redesign
over there.

Web results are presented in the main left-hand column after a search and
seem ranked the same as at Google. Unlike Google, presentation is different.
Results are numbered. Clicking on the URL line makes a box pop-up with options
to:

  • open the listing in the current window
  • a new window
  • to see more pages from that web site
  • to find similar pages.

After the first ten results, there’s a "more web pages" link at the bottom.
Click on this, and you get another 10 results magically appearing on the same
page, inserted below the first 10. You can keep going, adding 10 more results at
a time.

It’s pretty slick. Microsoft’s Windows Live had a somewhat similar "infinite
scroll" feature that allowed you to keep getting more and more results, as you
went down the page.
Unveiled
in March, it was
dropped in
September for web results (it still works for image results) when Windows Live
came out of beta, as Microsoft felt it slowed performance.

While A9 dropped so many features, "continuous scroll" is something it
gained. Do a search there, and as you scroll down, more results keep magically
appearing, 10 at a time.

Unique to SearchMash is the ability to drag-and-drop web search results.
Click on the number next to any listing, and you can move that listing higher or
lower in the search results. The number doesn’t change after you move it. The
feature also doesn’t seem that useful. Far better would be a scratch pad-style
feature such as Windows Live
offers for
image search. Being able to drag-and-drop web results into some type of
collection area would be handy — and it’s something that Microsoft is
promising.

Those are the features at the moment, which you can also find described on
the site’s features
page. What you won’t find is much about Google on the site. The
About page doesn’t mention them.
You’ve got to go into the
privacy
page where you discover:

SearchMash is a website operated by Google Inc. The Google Privacy Policy
describes how we treat personal information when you use our products and
services, including information provided when you use SearchMash. In addition,
the following describes our privacy practices that are specific to SearchMash.

So what’s up with SearchMash. I fired some questions off to Google, and
here’s what I got:

Q. When did this go up from Google?

Very recently.

Q. Why are you doing it?

  • SearchMash is an experimental search site operated by Google. The goal of
    SearchMash is to test innovative user interfaces in order to continually
    improve the overall search experience for our users.
     
  • The site does not include Google branding to help us gather more objective
    data about user response to new interfaces.
     
  • There is no guarantee that the features tested on SearchMash will be seen
    on Google search. As with all of our experiments, one of the main factors we
    will consider is user response to the feature and how well it addresses their
    needs.
     
  • This site is only a test and has traffic limitations so may be unavailable
    at times.

Q. Why is it not on Google Labs?

Google Labs continues to be a great site for Google to launch new products
that may not be ready for prime time yet, frequently and quickly. In this
case, one of the important factors we wanted to address was the influence that
may come from Google branding. Creating a separate site will help us gather
more objective data about user response to new interfaces.

OK, next some follow-ups and speculation. First, how can a site that no one
knows about be useful to Google? Pretty much no one heard of it until the past
day. As best I can tell:

So the site’s going to have plenty of visitors, but all the wrong type,
people who are the influencers or tech-heads or early adopters that Google’s not
trying to test against.

Remember, Google’s been doing a lot of testing over the past year or so.
Barry Schwartz just
noted
yet another sidebar navigation experiment yesterday. The experiments
became so frequent and much discussed that I was
begging Google
in March to provide more official notice about what they were doing. Google’s
response to me was that announcing the experiments would skew the results.

Still, with everyone watching them so closely, experiments were quickly noted
by the blogging community. That may have helped Google decide in April to

blog itself
about how it tries to test things against small groups. It even
illustrated some of its experiments.

Now SearchMash gives Google an experimental playground, one similar to how
AllTheWeb is supposed to operate for Yahoo,
though aside from LiveSearch being
launched
there in May, Yahoo’s not done much with AllTheWeb.

Google can play with weird stuff at SearchMash without worrying about
"normal" users having the Google brand set up expectations. But how do those
normals (or "mundanes" for you Babylon 5 fans) get to the site? From Google:

We have various methods for driving traffic to search and UI experiments
that we run but we don’t share details regarding the methodology to help keep
the results as objective as possible.

A couple of guesses here. Google is likely (or will be likely) to divert
people to the site in various ways, such as perhaps if someone uses an
AdSense For Search box
on a content site. It might simply push some people trying to reach Google to
SearchMash (perhaps with some interstitial page warning them beforehand). It
also gives them a site to put before controlled focus groups, where they might
not know Google is behind it.

What about the skewing that will happen now that early adopters and the
Google-obsessed will be all over SearchMash? They can be filtered out. If Google
is directing certain groups to the site in various ways, it can then filter
studies of user behavior to just those groups.

OK, one last thing. What about the idea that SearchMash will be the new place
for Google to allow people to create custom search engines of their own, similar
to Yahoo Search
Builder
launched last month or the older
Rollyo
or Eurekster Swicki
services?

Garett Rogers last week
wondered
if the IndexBench trademark Google applied for recently was a sign
that Google was planning custom vertical search engines. Now he
wonders if SearchMash will
instead be the place for this, after Google Operating System

highlighted
a Time Magazine article confirm that Google plans this:

Marissa Mayer, who manages search products, says the company has assigned
more engineers to search than ever before and plans to release a new search
tool that will enable users to design and build their own flavor of Google
search, scanning just the sites they’re interested in.

So yes, custom vertical searches are coming, likely more substantial and
customizable than the long-standing
Site-Flavored Google
Search
that’s been out
since 2004
and recently
upgraded
this year. But Google wouldn’t say if it will be on SearchMash or
not. So wait, watch and see.

Finally, the feel of SearchMash to A9 in many ways is uncanny. As I noted in
my Amazon’s A9
Becomes, Well, Sort Of Nothing
post earlier today, A9 was an experimental
playground for Amazon that seems to have lost its way after it
lost its CEO
Udi Manber to Google. I haven’t heard back from Google on whether Manber is now
running SearchMash. But seeing the side-by-side results that were a hallmark of
A9, plus the infinite scroll similar to what A9 just rolled out (and what may
have been in the works before Manber left A9), it sure feels like he’s running a
new playground search engine — this time for Google.


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